MANAHAWKIN – Tom Bucci doesn’t need any snappy catchphrase elaborately screen printed onto a practice shirt to motivate Southern Regional to uphold the long-standing values weaved into the fabric of its storied history. Instead, all the head coach has to do is point to one of two spots on the court to get his message across.

Poignantly portrayed just a few feet in front of the home team’s bench is the most powerful reminder of what’s expected from any Southern player, a salute to Kathy Snyder, the iconic architect who preceded his tenure at the helm, built the program on the foundation of high moral standards and for whom the court is appropriately named to honor her legacy.

In the middle of the floor resides Jac Ward, the ideal model Ram who best embodies all the redeeming traits and upholds them through infectious actions that speak far louder than any words.

“I’ve coached here for a long time,” said Bucci, who served as Snyder’s assistant before assuming the head-coaching reins upon Snyder’s untimely passing in January of 2014. “And, Jac is the greatest leader I’ve ever coached.”

Being termed a leader at Southern might just be the highest praise one can earn. It signifies a connection to the past and a willingness to instill it into the present. Ward meets such qualifications having earned the respect from her peers and admiration of her coach by abiding to principles she holds dear. The senior point guard operates on accountability, headiness, hustle and heart, all cornerstones linking former installments to the current cast but also a window into how she is wired.

Since seventh grade, Ward has been motivated by the idea of service. For the time being, she carries out those urges as the quintessential playmaker whose repertoire engineered a 32-21 victory over visiting Toms River South on Thursday night. But, soon, she will serve in a far greater capacity, having committed to the United States Coast Guard Academy to fulfill a lifelong dream.

“I’ve had that inkling that I’ve always wanted to serve,” said Ward, who supplied a game-high 16 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a steal to the outcome. “I was talking with my mom and she immediately shot down the Marines and the Army. Too dangerous. I don’t like planes so the Air Force was out. It came down to the Navy or the Coast Guard. I looked up the missions and what they do and I found the Coast Guard’s pertain more to me because I’d rather save lives than take lives.”

Such well-thought out planning explains a lot about Ward. Watch her with the ball, patiently examining a defense in order to recognize where it’s compromised before she attacks with purpose…and you instantly get an idea of how she ticks.

She organizes, steers and directs like a compassionate compass eternally pointing Southern in the proper direction, doing it with a soft, influential tact that resonates with teammates.

“She’s definitely a leader,” noted junior forward Kaela Curtin, whose interior game is enhanced by Ward illuminating it with entries into the paint. “When we’re down, she is always picking us up. She deserves the credit. If it wasn’t for her, our team wouldn’t have the chemistry that we have.”

That bond is magnified on defense, where Southern (7-6, 4-4) limits opponents to 38.8 points per game in its active man-to-man. It held Toms River South (6-6, 4-4) in check throughout, containing a modest offense (36.4) to a season-low 21 points, hindered by an inability to strike any rhythm and slowed by the combination of turnovers and foul trouble.

“We held them to 32 points and that’s great,” said Toms River South coach Kim Peto. “The turnovers and the fouls didn’t help but, there’s no shot clock. We didn’t need to rush shots. We shot 6 for 35 from the floor, 0 for from the 3-point line and missed six foul shots. All that adds up.”

Yet, the Indians were well within striking distance at the outset of the second quarter. Two free throws by 6-3 sophomore forward Kelle Anwander, who provided a team-high eight points and five rebounds off the bench, narrowed Southern’s lead to 12-9 but that was as close as Toms River South got.

Ward converted four foul shots and Curtin translated a feed from junior guard Sam Del Rio into a layup during a 6-0 run that sent Southern into halftime with an 18-11 edge. Ward maintained that momentum in the third, driving into the lane on consecutive trips that ended in delicate pull-ups before kicking to junior guard Alex Mattner for a mid-range jumper to stamp a 12-0 run and extend the Rams’ advantage to 24-12 with 3:43 showing in the stanza.

Junior guard Jordan Frangipani made an early impact, sticking a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter to match the six points Ward offered in establishing a 12-7 lead.

Despite being saddled in foul trouble, 6-0 senior forward Shiloh Williams finished with seven points and nine boards for Toms River South.

Toms River South (6-6, 4-4)   07           04           05           05 --- 21
Southern (7-6, 4-4)                 12           06           12           02 --- 32

Toms River South: Caitlin Carroll 1-0-0-2; Ashlee Pataky 1-0-0-2; Molly LeGrand 0-0-0-0; Aliya Canfield 0-0-0-0; Madison Braun 0-0-2-2; Kelle Anwander 3-0-2-8; Shiloh Williams 1-0-5-7.

Southern: Jac Ward 6-0-4-16; Sam Del Rio 0-0-2-2; Kaela Curtin 2-0-0-4; Taylor Tancredi 0-0-0-0; Jordan Frangipani 0-2-0-6; Molly Ciliberto 0-0-0-0; Alex Mattner 1-0-0-2; Corinne Spina 0-0-0-0; Kacey Kubarewicz 1-0-0-2.

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